Please thank your neighbour for me, I was so relieved that my letter had reached you. Earlier today I lost my bet on the horses and your quick and warm response was compensation. No, I haven’t become a gambler since arriving in Australia; today is the Melbourne Cup race and the whole of Australia stands hypnotised for a few minutes watching TV or listening to the radio while the race is run. Just about everybody bets and the commentary is very exciting. Last year I bet on the Melbourne Cup for the first time. Johnny tells me the Grand National is somewhat similar but here office meetings are rescheduled to keep 1:45pm clear on the first Tuesday of November so people can place bets and watch the race. It’s even a public holiday in Victoria where the race is held. Charitable institutions run fashion shows and luncheons with raffles based on the Melbourne Cup race winners.
Life indeed has moved on and I’m glad to know you are a grandmother. We have one twenty-two month old grandson Nathaniel (Marcello’s son) and we are fortunate they all live with us. My mother and sister Barbara (who is mildly retarded) live with us too and have been here for five years. At the moment I am writing to you and trying to encourage Barbara to go to sleep. She is easily excited and waiting up for my mother to return from a pensioner’s dinner. Barbara is naturally very attached to our mother.
We arrived in Australia with Gareth, Karen and Marcello, and settled down in Emu Park. Blue-eyed Gareth was only six months old and we joined Johnny who had gone ahead to set up home for us. They were strange and wondrous years; a little worrying too because I was on a visitor’s visa and fearful of complications with the Immigration Department. After a few years, we moved to Sydney where Johnny started at a consultancy firm. I loved Sydney and we were then sent to the Philippines on a contract and staying in Manila for a couple of years. Johnny did not extend his contract as we were longing to get back to Australia. The children chose to return to Emu Park, rather than Sydney, and we finally moved back at the end of 1972, bought a house and have been here ever since.
Last night we went to the high school for speech night and are naturally very proud of Karen who gave the valedictory speech as school captain. She has worked hard and consistently to get through her studies and hopes to start a Mechanical Engineering degree next year at the College of Advanced Education in Rockhampton. She changed her mind about Queensland University because Brisbane seemed large and overcrowded.
This is Gareth’s first year at high school and he has another four years to go. The school is in Yeppoon, a little town about twelve miles away. A free bus takes Emu Park kids there and back every day.
We live in a large wooden house, said to be over eighty years old, resting on eighty stumps. The ‘garden’ is about an acre in size and the house set on a shale hilltop with two rows of fully grown Norfolk Island pines as wind breakers. There are views of the sea and a five-minute walk straight down the hill. The trip back is quite a bit slower.
With such a large, mostly adult family, we have to grow a few vegetables and keep chickens (chooks) and ducks. We buy fruit and vegetables in bulk from the farms in the area – mostly what they can’t sell to the shops. Ducks are not considered a special treat in Australia. Marcello has a job at the local meatworks dealing in small animals so we don’t do badly at all. As Johnny says, food is no problem, it’s the bigger bills like car payments or repairs, registration fees, house and water rates that we struggle with.
There are fourteen clubs in Emu Park with only a population of fourteen hundred or thereabouts. My mother, who is seventy-three, leads a very busy life indoor bowling twice a week, the National Fitness club once a week, church once a week and the Pensioner’s Leagues socials once a month. The clubs also have special tea parties and Johnny bakes a supply of cakes so Gran can ‘take a plate’. There are also the inevitable fund-raising street stalls and she attends Christmas dinners, bus trips and goodness knows what else. We have to keep a diary of my mother’s movements.
Bob Dylan has been on our record player for the past week and Barbara is now snoring gently so I shall join Karen and Johnny who are hard at work at the dining table.